OTTAWA — A sweeping cyberbullying bill introduced Wednesday appears to go beyond its initial intent to make the distribution of sexually explicit images without a person’s consent a criminal offence, giving police new tools to investigate Internet crimes that don’t compromise privacy.
The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act includes those and many other recommendations contained in a July report by federal, provincial and territorial justice and public safety ministers.
But the 53-page bill also touches on terrorism, organized crime and hate propaganda. It even includes a clause that would make it an offence to steal cable television, punishable by as much as two years in jail.
In an interview with Postmedia News, Justice Minister Peter MacKay admitted Bill C-13 goes beyond cyberbullying and is to some extent an opportunity to modernize what is a dated Criminal Code written before text messages and emails were a reality.
“We’ve taken the opportunity to modernize Criminal Code sections vis-a-vis communication broadly,” he said.
“These sections ... many of them were enacted well before the arrival of the Internet so this is the first real attempt, the first comprehensive attempt, to modernize Criminal Code sections as they pertain to communications, communications essentially for unlawful purposes.”
While much of it relates to “intimidation and harassment,” he said, it was also an “appropriate bill” to deal with the “theft of telecommunications.”
The NDP welcomed the bill, which includes elements of New Democrat Robert Chisholm’s private member’s bill on cyberbullying. Justice critic Francoise Boivin, however, said the devil’s in the details and she had yet to read the entire bill.
“We all agree that number one is the victims, and number two is making sure that we are also conforming to the Charter of Rights,” she said.
“Credibility sometimes is zero with that government, so I want to make sure that all the disposition on how (police) can obtain the information, the images from computers, how will it proceed, what type of proof will be asked . . . those are all details that I want to be very sure that what we engage in (so) we are not opening a can of worm for no reason.”
The bill follows the high-profile suicides of several teenagers across the country who faced cyberbullying, including Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons, whose alleged rape was circulated over the Internet, and B.C. teen Amanda Todd who was exploited online. The bill also comes as Canadians mark Bullying Awareness Week.
“I think we all understand here that nothing we do can bring back the precious lives that have been lost,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in the House of Commons shorty before the bill was tabled.
“Hopefully the actions we’re taking today will do some things to change things in the future and will also provide these families with some sense that their concerns are taken seriously and some sense of justice for their daughters.”
The new Criminal Code offence covers so-called “intimate images” that show an individual engaged in explicit sexual activity or that depicts a sex organ, anal region or breast. The offence applies to adults as well as young people and is punishable by as many as five years in prison.
The bill will also:
? Direct judges to consider prohibiting those convicted of the offence from using the Internet for a period of time.
? Authorize judges to order intimate images be removed from websites.
? Authorize judges to order those convicted of the new offence to pay restitution to cover the cost of removing the images.
? Empower the courts to seize and order the forfeiture of computers and mobile devices used in the offence.
The bill also includes a provision to compel the spouse of an accused person to testify against their partner in court.
It’s an idea the government floated in August when Harper announced plans to create a national sex offender registry, crack down on child sex tourists and establish mandatory penalties for certain sex crimes against children. That bill has yet to be introduced.
In response to recommendations in the ministerial cyberbullying report, the new bill does resurrect certain elements of Bill C-30, the Internet snooping bill that was scrapped amid public outrage over privacy concerns and former public safety minister Vic Toews’ contention that the bill’s opponents were essentially siding with child pornographers.
It will give police new tools to track telecommunications and investigate Internet crimes, including the ability to freeze evidence to prevent Internet and mobile service providers from deleting information before a warrant is secured.
The key caveat is that none of the new powers would give police access to subscriber information without a warrant.
“It requires judicial authorization in order to go after this type of material to preserve it, to present it to a court of law,” MacKay assured.
“Secondly, this legislation is very specific in its intent. It’s intended to help deter the type of distribution of information and images that we feel are tantamount (to) harassment . . . intimidation . . . (and) slander.”
Canadian Centre for Child Protection executive director Lianna McDonald was on hand for the tabling of the bill. She applauded the government’s efforts, noting that a crackdown on “non-consensual distribution of intimate images is a very important step in the right direction.
“It will assist in stopping the misuse of technology and help numerous young people impacted and devastated by this type of victimization,” she said.
(By Tobi Cohen)